“I’m often asked would I go back and change what happened to me in Afghanistan,” says army vet and Paralympian Curtis McGrath. “And I always say: ‘No, absolutely not.’”

On August 23, 2012, Curtis, then an army engineer charged with clearing improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Afghanistan, lost his legs in a mine blast.

Around the same time the London Paralympics was underway, and Curtis and his teammates had been watching it on TV during their downtime. “We’d see people in wheelchairs or blind runners or amputees and all sorts of disabilities achieving amazing things,” he says.

Watching the London Paralympics planted a seed in Curtis’s mind, one that he revisited during the long rehabilitation after his accident, first at Ramstein Air Base in Germany and later at home in Brisbane.

During rehab, his girlfriend (now wife) Rachel helped him understand he needed a goal after getting out of hospital, something he could work towards and motivate himself with.

“I needed to think about what was next and what that was going to be,” he says. “Where was I going and what sort of sport would I get involved in?”

He asked himself how he would find a purpose and set more goals for his new life. First, he joined a group called Mates4Mates, paddling 1,000 kilometres between Sydney and Brisbane, something that made him realise that being around great people and having an excellent support network was vital.

Curtis decided to focus on sprint canoeing and, after months of training, was selected to represent Australia at the 2016 Paralympics in Rio where he won gold. Through the whole experience, he says his proudest moment was carrying the flag during the closing ceremony.

“Since being deployed in Afghanistan, I’ve been given a new perspective on life,” he says. “One around the necessity for challenges and failures in order to succeed. All of those things have made me the person I am today.”

It all comes down to hard work, says Curtis, but he also observes that it’s critical to have the right people around you to realise your goals. “Rachel and my friends and family were very instrumental in making sure I was aware of the opportunities out there.”

Simply saying you want to do something isn’t good enough, he says. When you realise and accept that you’re willing to do the hard work, you then start to feel like you’re going to achieve something.

What it comes down to, he says, is not thinking about the ‘what-ifs’ but the ‘what’s next?’

“Don’t shy away from the difficult or the challenging path,” says Curtis. “Pushing yourself into adversity or a challenging situation can help you grow and you’re going to come out out a much better person, feeling like you have achieved something you have worked so hard for.”

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